GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Throughout March, the Kent County Sheriff’s Office has partnered with Kids’ Food Basket to collect food for children in need in West Michigan. 

As part of the program, the food basket collects decorated brown lunch bags that are filled with a balanced, ready-to-eat meal. KCSO has been a part of that project since 2018, but things were put on pause for a while due to COVID-19 concerns.

The Food Basket’s March community partner challenge gave them an opportunity to resume those efforts. 

“It’s a good feeling,” said Sgt. Nikila Edwards. “Outside of being in charge of inmate services and programs, I also oversee community outreach. So that is definitely one of our goals is to try to connect corrections with the community and know that not only are the inmates doing positive things, but the deputies inside too.”

Edwards then connected with Deputy James Falbe to see if he was interested in getting involved. 

“When Nikki approached me about it at first, I didn’t really understand what it was, but I got right into it. I really understood that it was for the kids and I have some inmates that I had known were talented. I’ve seen their artwork. They do little drawings on their own or what not. So, I approached a couple of these guys and said look, this is a program we’re trying to get going. If you’re interested, strictly volunteer, it’s up to you if you want to get involved in it. Every one of them immediately said, yes, I want to do it. I want to do it,” Dep. Falbe said. 

The seven men now call themselves “Hearts for Art.” One of the group members said the work is part of their rehabilitation, allowing them to give back to the community and focus on others rather than on themselves.

Falbe said there are other inmates that would like to participate, but it’s difficult because of COVID restrictions. If that wasn’t the case, he believes a lot more people be involved. There are also female inmates decorating bags.

Edwards said the original goal before the pandemic was to donate a box of bags every month, so now that the program is back up and running, they plan to continue donating for as long as they’re able.

The food drive runs through the end of March. KCSO is collecting fruit cups and pouches, pudding cups, meat sticks, pretzel or Cheez-It bags, small raisin boxes, extra-large brown lunch bags and quart size bags. Their goal is to collect 2,500 pounds of food throughout the month.

Donations can be dropped off at the sheriff’s office, township offices and schools.